Somers Town (UK 2008)

Finding Friendship in <i> Somers Town
Finding Friendship in Somers Town

Meadows did not disappoint with his intended short film – Somers Town, written by Paul Fraser a regular collaborator of Meadows. Starring Thomas Turgoose from This is England it follows Tomo who has run away to London from Nottingham where he encounters the idealistic Marek (Piotr Jagiello), living in London with his Polish father who is working on the Channel Tunnel link. What follows is a totally engaging drama, which has several possible narrative outcomes and different points even within its relatively short running time of 75 minutes.

Somers Town is an area of London that is partly defined by its proximity to King’s Cross, Euston and St Pancras – the site, now, of the new channel tunnel terminus, out of which Eurostar operates. The film production itself was co-produced by Eurostar, through Mother Vision – the idea actually originating as part of the advertising agency, Mother’s, failed pitch for the Eurostar account (to manage the move from Waterloo and St Pancras). Their pitch had included the idea of a series of short films about the area. Meadows, in the Q&A that followed the Edinburgh screening, admitted that he had been worried about taking on a project under a commercial banner. He was reassured by Greg Nugent, Eurostar’s head of UK marketing (and a fellow citizen of Nottingham!) who Meadows described as being very film literate and allowing him complete artistic freedom.

The script was used as a framework on which to improvise, and there is definitely a sense (when watching) of the characters developing naturally in meandering conversations and the narrative following different potential paths at each stage. I couldn’t help anticipating a melodramatic event from early in the film, a feeling that the lives of these characters are hanging on the edge because they are so marginalised, so that a positive or a negative outcome is equally possible. The structure of the film seemed to walk this fine balance very effectively.

The choice of black and white cinematography came as a ‘Eureka!’ moment. Having scouted the locations, Meadows felt they ‘looked like shit’ in colour and the eclectic mix of architecture did not look well on film. Once they rendered all the images to black and white, there was an immediate cohesion. I felt the use of black and white worked to make the film’s time location indeterminate – to make the characters seem they could be of any time of place. The use of colour late in the film (I’m trying not to create spoilers!) has a powerful impact, and the film stock’s aesthetic style encourages a feeling of nostalgia.

The working relationship with Turgoose is obviously very strong, although there was no intention to use him this quickly again, Meadows had already committed himself to using the actor as soon as the right kind of project happened. However, he suggested that revisiting ideas and scenes of his own past and childhood (as in This Is England) was now done. Whilst Somers Town was not his story, Meadows said he was drawn to the material because he was “pigged off” with the ignorant attitudes he had heard regarding Polish workers. He liked the development of the character of Piotr’s father, whose reasons for coming to England are shown to be quite different than the British tabloid stereotypes.

The film won the Michael Powell award at the festival, and Turgoose and Jagiello jointly won the Best Actor award at Tribeca Festival (April/May 2008), the jury commenting on the “extraordinary and exhilarating rendering of a friendship found.”

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